Month: July 2017

Why is the Bible so violent?

During the time of Noah, God wiped out humanity with a flood (Gen. 6-9).
During the time of Moses, God killed all the Egyptian firstborns and then drowned their army in the Red Sea (Exo. 12, 14).
During the time of Saul, God told Saul to completely slaughter the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15).
During the time of David, God smote Uzzah for merely trying to stabilize the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6).
During the time of Hezekiah, God destroyed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (2 Kgs 19:35).

Why is the Bible so violent?

To hear my 38 minute response to this question, click on the video.

Christ Community Church (a multi-campus church in the Chicago suburbs) invited me to speak on violence in the Bible as a part of their summer of 2017 sermon series entitled, “Elephants, the questions we can’t ignore.”

The video begins with an moving 2-minute story that answers the question, “Do elephants really never forget?”  I appear at the 2:05 mark.

To listen to the audio, click here.

I don’t cover all the incidents of violence in the Bible, but focus on what I believe to be the most troubling one, the Canaanite conquest recorded in the book of Joshua.  Some of this material appears in God Behaving Badly, or in my Relevant article on the Canaanite Genocide.

Enjoy.

 

Dave in Liberia

LIFES Group Afterwards April 2017On Saturday (April 8) at 1:00 am I was picked up by Moses, the LIFES (= Liberia International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) staff-worker, and his family.  Shannon joined us from Guinea Bissau later that evening.  I was scheduled to speak at Monrovia Christian Fellowship on Sunday at the second service, but with typical African warmth, my friend Pastor Joshua invited me last minute to speak at the early service also. “Sure,” I replied.

As I entered the sweltering sanctuary I thought agreeing to a homiletic “double-header” was a bad idea.  I wasn’t used to the heat.  A few weeks earlier I had been shoveling snow off my driveway in Pennsylvania.  As I preached on the smiting of Uzzah (my go-to sermon; 2 Samuel 6:1-11) my light blue shirt became distinctly two-toned—because of sweat.  Afterwards, a woman came up to Shannon and I, telling us just the day before she was reading the story of Uzzah and was distressed because she couldn’t understand it.  The talk felt like God answering her prayer.

Dave Carrying Well Water

On Monday, we spent several hours filling up large barrels of water at LIFES student camp site.  There was no running water, so cooking, bathing, flushing were all dependent upon getting those barrels full.  We filled them from the well with a bucket on a long rope.  It took several hours, but right as my back started to ache (my shirt had already changed color), I realized this was phenomenal preparation for my talks.  At the camp I would teach on the Wedding at Cana (John 2) and the Samaritan Woman (John 4), two passages where wells and water feature prominently.  I was doing first-hand research, and just like the Samaritan woman, we were doing this at mid-day.  (But I still don’t think that means we’re prostitutes; see Prostitutes & Polygamists, page 81.) The students at the camp filled up the barrels for the rest of the week and slept on thin mats on hard concrete classroom floors.  We were humbled by the costs these LIFES students were willing to pay to study the Word of God with us.  I particularly enjoyed my conversations with two students.  Pray for Ibrahim a recent convert and Cyrus who is helping to start a new fellowship on his campus.

The low point for us came when we decided we could no longer handle the heat.  We had were teaching long hours every day with a heat index over a hundred degree Fahrenheit, and had been staying with a delightful and wonderfully hospitable Liberian family, who didn’t have air conditioning.  We moved to a local hotel so that we could have air conditioning at night.  It felt like defeat for us since we wanted to be with Liberians as much as possible.  We had been teaching on the incarnation of Jesus (John 1).  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but Dave and Shannon couldn’t take the heat, so we needed to move over to Jandy’s Tropical Paradise.  It was humbling.  And it made us even more appreciative of the costs Jesus’ paid to dwell among us and die for us.

Thank you for your support and prayers.

Confusion is Good

Confusion, for lack of a better word, is good. At least that’s what we see in several passages in the Bible.  Why would God want to intentionally confuse people?  Great question. When God called the prophet Isaiah, he gave him confusing message .

When God called Isaiah to be his messenger this is what God told him to say:
“Go and say to this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; 
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull
and their ears heavy
and blind their eyes:
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with the ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

What’s Isaiah’s message? Don’t understand, don’t perceive, don’t see, don’t hear, don’t turn, don’t be healed. What? It sounds like God wants the Israelites to remain confused. It’s confusing that God would want people to be confused.  I guess God gets what he wants.

While many of us avoid or ignore weird texts like this one, Jesus didn’t. In each of the four gospels Jesus quotes these verses from Isaiah 6 (Matt. 13:13-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40). There are very few Old Testament texts quoted from the mouth of Jesus that appear in all four of the gospels. Jesus thought this confusing text was important, that sometimes it’s good to be confused.

Those of us who teach the Bible often like to put the cookie on the lowest shelf, to make it really simple, to help people understand. But there is a problem from always making things simple and easy to understand.  That’s not how God does it in the Bible most of the time.  The Bible is often confusing. Many of Jesus’ parables are confusing. God makes his word confusing intentionally.

We need to not remain in a perpetual state of confusion. But sometimes, confusion is good. If we are never challenging, provoking, and even confusing people, we aren’t teaching like Jesus.

What purpose does confusion serve?  I see three.

First, confusion makes us humble.  We have to acknowledge that we don’t know everything. We are finite. We may not like it, but we are dependent. Do we really expect that we could fully comprehend a gloriously mysterious God? Confusion keeps us humble before an infinite, sovereign, power God.

Second, confusion causes us to ask questions.  In his confusion about this confusing passage Isaiah asks a question, “How long, O Lord” (Isa. 6:11).  Jesus quoted this passage to the disciples when they asked him a question about the parables.  When we’re confused we should ask questions.  People ask questions about things they care about. Care enough about the Bible to ask questions.

Third, confusion leads us to God. What does Isaiah do with his question? He goes directly to God with it.  “How long, O Lord” is one of the psalmist’s favorite questions (Psa. 4:2; 6:3; 13:1, 2; 35:17; 62:3; 74:10; 79:5; 80:4; 82:2; 90:13; 94:3; 119:84). In the midst of our confusion, our humility and our questions should take us to God who may or may not answer them.  But if our confusion leads us into a deeper relationship with God, it serves a great purpose.